The importance of bone development during puberty

Puberty represents a very important time for bone growth and development because it’s when most of our bone mass is formed. From about the age of 10 and all through the teenage years there is a dramatic increase in bone growth and bone density in both boys and girls.

In the years of peak skeleton growth, teenagers accumulate more than 25% of adult bone and by the time teens finish their growth spurt at around the age of 17, they’ll have developed 90% of their adult bone mass.1

The amount of bone mass accumulated in childhood and adolescence sets the tone for bone health in later life; the greater your bone density is to begin with, the less likely you are of developing osteoporosis as you age. The years around puberty are therefore a once in a lifetime opportunity to build the strongest and healthiest bones possible.

What can affect bone development during puberty?

Our bones require three important factors in order to grow to their full potential: calcium, vitamin D and exercise.

  • Calcium – Teenagers have high calcium requirements to support their peak bone‐building years. Half of the total body calcium stores in women and up to two‐thirds of calcium stores in men are established in puberty,2 so it’s important to ensure adequate amounts are obtained from the diet. A recent nutrition survey found that a staggering 82‐89% of girls and 44% of boys all aged 14‐16 years are not meeting their daily calcium requirements.3 If calcium levels are not able to be met through the diet alone, a calcium supplement may be needed to support bone development and achieve maximum bone density.
  • Vitamin D – Vitamin D is required to absorb and utilise calcium in the body and is therefore important for the formation of healthy bones. Optimum vitamin D levels can be achieved through sensible sun exposure and/or vitamin D supplements.
  • Physical activity – Regular weight‐bearing exercise is important for maximising the mass and strength of bones throughout puberty2 and optimising bone health in later life. Weight bearing exercises are ones that put weight on your bones e.g. running, dancing, lifting weights or walking. As a comparison, swimming is not a weight bearing exercise because it doesn’t put weight on your bones, the water takes the weight.